This is a continuation of the School Accommodations for Anxious Children (Part 1) article that discusses the struggles children with anxiety disorders face at school. While Part 1 has recommendations for modifications that can be made within the classroom, this article focuses more on social situations children may deal with outside of class.
Lunch time and recess:
Going to the cafeteria or outside to play can be one of the worst times in an anxious child’s life. Some children would prefer to skip lunch altogether because starvation is the preferred alternative to sitting alone. And the fear of going outside for recess can be paralyzing because an anxious child will fret over whether they will be completely ignored, bullied, or the last one chosen to play on the kickball team.
Assemblies or large groups:
Unless a child has mastered the art of “blending” into a crowd, he will most likely be very anxious being part of one. To help him reach higher comfort levels, ask teachers to allow him to sit on the periphery such as the end of the row, or in the back of the class or auditorium.
Children with anxiety disorders often don’t want to go on school field trips, no matter how fun and exciting they may be. The thought of sitting next to someone they don’t know on the bus, or the fear of being separated from the group can be terrifying. Ask the teacher to include your child in a smaller group with one of the teachers, or accompany the group yourself as a chaperone.
Everybody needs a friend – especially a worried child who is feeling fearful, upset, and apprehensive. Having someone to turn to who understands where she is coming from can greatly influence how often your child attends school. Ask a teacher, guidance counselor, or other adult to be the “safe person” your child can go to whenever she is having a difficult moment and needs to take a short break.
Take a break:
Speaking of breaks, ask the teacher to allow your child to leave the class for a few minutes to get a drink of water or go to the bathroom long enough to shake off a pending anxiety attack. This can be pre-arranged by an unobtrusive hand gesture or other signal so as not to call attention to your child.
Approximately two-to-five percent of school-aged children refuse to attend school due to extreme anxiety. Some children complain of physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches, while others simply pitch a fit and flat out refuse to go. Establish a support system that includes teachers, family friends, and a therapist to help your child work through these issues. Then, return to school in small degrees with shortened days that gradually lengthen over time.
“The most important thing a parent can do is obtain a comprehensive evaluation from a mental health professional,” says Anxiety and Depression Association of America board member, Daniel Pine, MD, who also directs research on anxiety disorders at the National Institute of Mental Health. This will help to determine the best treatment plan needed for your child’s anxiety disorder, and enable everyone to join forces in carrying out the plan. If you would like information regarding Dr. Susan Daniel’s professional services and/or to have a comprehensive evaluation, please feel free to contact her for more information.